African-Americans, Violence, Disabilities, and Public Policy: A Call for A Workable Approach to Alleviating the Pains of Inner-City Life

Article excerpt


The crime problem in many African-American communities threatens the prospect that future generations will survive or live conventional lives. Despite the punitive practices used by the criminal justice system to prevent crime in these areas, problems exacerbate leaving many to doubt that this is the best approach. However, the public health approach holds promise for communities saturated by violence and social disorganization.


The total amount of crime committed in the United States each year is calculated in three manners. Crime data are collected from official statistics of the Uniform Crime Reports, self-reports, and victimization surveys. All sources confirm that African-Americans commit a disproportionate number of crimes relative to their population composition. Crime indexes reveal that while African-Americans make up only 12 percent of the U.S. population, they account for 55 percent of the index crimes committed each year. What is more disturbing is that the most serious crime murder is disproportionately committed by African-Americans against other African-Americans. Wilson (1990) contends that blacks are responsible for committing at least 91 percent of black homicides.

While the plight of African-Americans looks grim, many victims involved in murder attempts survive violent criminal episodes. However, because of serious bodily injuries, some never fully recuperate after victimization. These victims come to depend on the health care system for long term rehabilitation and therapeutic programs to aid them in adjusting to their injuries. This paper is divided into five parts. Part I offers theoretical explanations for crime in urban areas. Part II describes levels of violence that are concentrated in the inner-city urban areas where minorities disproportionately reside. Part III addresses the extent and costs of victimizations. Part IV provides criminal justice and health care approaches to reduce violence. Part V argues a viable policy strategy to reduce urban violence. In the final analysis, the research suggests that the health care approach can successfully reduce crime and violence in African-American communities.

Part I: Theoretical Explanations for Crime in Urban Areas

Crime statistics indicate that African-Americans living in urban areas commit and experience higher rates of crime and victimization than people in other geographical areas (Johnson et al., 1990). Therefore, there must be forces that exist in these environments that are crime-producing or at least crime-generating. Structural theorists contend that these environments exist because, historically, blacks were disenfranchised from employment, education, housing, and political activities. In addition, blacks were the victims of institutionalized racism, discrimination, and brutality at the hands of "free" citizens, as well as state officials who routinely ignored constitutional safeguards and protections (see Comer, 1985; Silberman, 1979). Today, many urban areas reveal the harsh reality of the legacy of systematic exclusion of equal access to the social, political, and economic resources in America.

Structural scholars believe that social forces found in urban African-American communities are caused by structural inequalities that blacks have been forced to endure. They argue that because early in the nation's history, blacks were enslaved; forced into labor; made to feel inferior; and were systematically excluded from conventional avenues for success. The end result has been that many blacks chose crime as an alternative means to reach the culturally-induced goals of social status and economic prosperity.

Because of unequal access and disenfranchisement, some negative social forces found in these urban areas are poverty; nontraditional families; juvenile delinquency; gangs; teenage pregnancies; drugs; despair; lawlessness; unemployment; and social disorganization (Shaw and McKay, 1931; Parks and Burgess, 1924; Mann, 1993; Pettigrew and Spier, 1962, and Sellin, 1938). …